So the kitchen in your apartment has builder’s-grade cabinets from the early 1990s, a crusty, worn-out floor and countertops you hate. Many of us recognize this discouraging description, but I promise it’s not hopeless. While it’s unlikely you can switch out cabinets, flooring, counters, backsplash or appliances, there are easy and inexpensive ways to enhance other parts of your kitchen so you’ll hardly notice its downsides.
1. Put up cafe curtains or a valance. This one is so easy — I have a friend who fashioned some curtains out of two darling dish towels hung from fishing wire. Retractable rods are inexpensive and will give you a more permanent look. If you’re not much of a sewer, you can buy ready-made curtains for a song. The fabric will add color and texture that will perk up the room.
2. Display a collection. The space on top of cabinets is prime real estate that often goes to waste. Collections like Fiestaware pitchers, baskets, small sculptures, quirky objects or pottery will draw the eye up over less-than-dreamy cabinets.
3. Set up a coffee (or tea) station. The point is to make your morning ritual easy and enjoyable.
Put all of your supplies in one spot, including whatever vessels you’ll be imbibing your brew from; a few of your favorite mugs or teacups and saucers will sprinkle some of your style into the kitchen. Keep sugar, honey, stirrers and any other fixings right next to your coffee pot, bean grinder, French press, Keurig, espresso maker or other favorite coffee appliance.
4. Bring in the green. Even just one plant can make a big difference in a kitchen. If you get some good natural light, grow small pots of your favorite herbs. A bonus is that they’ll add wonderful aromas.
5. Layer in a rug. You may not be able to change your flooring, but you can cover it up. Oriental rugs are a good choice because they’re durable, they don’t show dirt and they vacuum up beautifully. Stay away from light colors or thick pile when choosing a rug for the kitchen.
6. Hang art. This is one of the easiest ways to bring in color and personal style. The kitchen is always a great place to display children’s art.
7. Swap out hardware.Before you start, get a large ziplock bag. Be very careful to corral every handle, knob and screw so you can put them all back when you move out. Now you’re free to give your cabinets all new accessories, perhaps a new metal finish, green glass or vintage enamel knobs. This can truly give your kitchen a whole new attitude.
8. Dress your backsplash.If your tile bores you, removable decals are a great way to add style. They come in all sorts of patterns, shapes and characters these days. And I’m sorry, but this must be said: Did that cat just get caught drinking a generous pour of Apothic Red or what? He looks so guilty.
9. Fashion a pot railing. These branches are an artful way to store cookware, utensils and other kitchen gear. Natural touches are always welcome in the kitchen.
Here’s the more common and practical way to transform an empty wall with pot railings. This will take a slight amount of repair work if your landlord wants them taken down when you move.
10. Squeeze in extra shelves. Industrial metal shelving on casters can serve as extra pantry space, storage for cookbooks and small appliances, a place to display mixing bowls…. Some require only 2 feet of width, so if you have a gap and need more storage, consider this option.
11. Remove your cabinet doors. This is one we put some time into thinking about. Consider: Are your DIY skills good enough to properly remove the doors and put them back on? Do you have room to store them safely? Will you want to look at all of the things you store inside? (You don’t have to remove all the doors, of course — just one or two can open up the room and add interest.) Are you willing to put in some effort to make the interiors of the cabinets and the outside edges ready for display with a fresh coat of paint?
If you answered yes to all these questions, then go for it. Then arrange your favorite pieces in pleasing compositions, display your favorite cookbooks — and know you’ll be making the room feel more open and airy.
12. Invest in great stools. If you have a breakfast bar or high-top table, investing in stools you love makes sense. You and your friends will spend time there eating, visiting and working if you have comfortable seating. Plus, when you move you can take them with you.
13. Corral countertop items. I’m a big advocate of neat counters, but this can be tough when space is limited and you want your cooking necessities close at hand. Try keeping like things together — for example, place herbs, spices and oils atop a butcher block cutting board like you see here, or group bar supplies together on a tray.
14. Leave a cute teapot out on the range. A playful Michael Graves design, that treasured checkerboard MacKenzie-Childs or a sunny yellow beauty like this one — teapots were simply not made to be stashed away.
15. Treat yourself to a really great dish towel. It sounds silly, but a new dish towel makes me excited about my kitchen again. My latest is a yellow one from Crate and Barrel with a pattern of fried eggs all over it. This one minor yet very useful purchase makes me smile every time I see it.